"I have cancer."

Saying those words out loud is surprisingly cathartic — just like the old adage of naming your fears to make them less scary. The first time I remember saying that exact sentence, simple as it is, was months after my diagnosis and after I'd had three rounds of chemotherapy.

It was not the first time I'd talked about my cancer. However, until that day, whenever I had talked about it, I'd used phrases such as "the problem in my leg is cancer" or simply "it's cancer."

Even during appointments with the various oncologists — we talked about the tumor, the mass or my leg. They might have said, "You have cancer" (although, to be honest, I only remember "it's liposarcoma" or "it's cancer"), but I, personally, did not use the word "have" in relation to me and cancer.

To me, "have" implies ownership. That seemed a bit too real, too personal. Too scary.

I remember calling friends after getting the diagnosis — friends who'd had their own experiences with cancer, who could help me get through those initial treatments, who could help me relate terminology with real-life experiences. The closest I could get was saying, "I've been diagnosed with cancer." I was still in shock, still so very unsure of what it all meant for me. I sent similar personal messages on social media to a few closer friends before putting it out there for my entire friends list.

In February 2015, I was going through the daily radiation treatments. I had not yet started to experience burning, but I was feeling pretty fatigued. A friend from college practices acupuncture in my neighborhood. I made an appointment with her to help improve my energy level. I hadn't seen her in a long time, but she knew of my diagnosis.

I walked in. I remember it was a cold, sunny day. She heard the bell from the door and came out from the back room. She saw me, smiled — a big, genuine smile — and said, "How ARE you?"

"I have cancer." I remember smiling, laughing and saying, "I have cancer." Just as I was starting to feel a kind of relief from saying it out loud, she said, "Doesn't it feel weird to say that?" So, not only was I self-acknowledging the power of saying it out loud, but she was validating all the fear and relief of being able to state it. It really did make it less scary from that point on.

I still have times of being scared, of worrying about what will happen, of how long my future will be, of what this ache means, or what is this little bump I don't think I've felt before. However, it all has a name and I have said it out loud. I have cancer.


Share Your Thoughts

Have you said "I have cancer" since your diagnosis? How did it feel the first time you said it? Share your comments below.

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About the Author

Amy Koch grew up in southeastern Wisconsin and, after a fair amount of traveling, living and working in other places in the United States and abroad, she has been living in Milwaukee since 2005. She has a B.A. in international studies, an M.S. in curriculum and instruction and various teaching licenses. She speaks fluent Spanish and functional Japanese. After working as a bilingual elementary school teacher in Milwaukee for eight years, she is now an instructional coach specializing in reading instruction. A lump in her left thigh in late summer/early fall of 2014 turned out to not be a "nerve or muscle problem" that just needed time and rest. She was diagnosed with liposarcoma in October 2014 and started chemotherapy in November. After chemo, neutropenia, radiation, surgery, more tumors and subsequent treatments, she thinks she is cancer free as of November 2015.

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Amy Koch
on June 7, 2018 - 12:24 pm

Thanks, Peg. It does not have me. I have periods of time when I don't think about it at all. Even now. I never would have thought that possible before. It doesn't have me; I won't let it.

Peg Grafwallner
on June 7, 2018 - 12:24 pm

Amy, thank you for sharing. I had never before thought of the word "have" in that way; with that much power associated to it. But, you're right. By using the word "have," there is some ownership involved. However, you have not let cancer define you, and most importantly, you haven't given it the power to be a part of your life. Yes, you "have" cancer, but it doesn't "have" you. And, as you've proven, there's a difference.